On Valentine's Day, same-sex couples rejected for marriage licenses

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When they entered the City-County Building Friday morning to apply for a marriage license, Colleen and Tamala Arbaczewski knew they didn’t have a chance.

Still, the rejection stung. Walking out of the marriage bureau with her partner, no marriage license in hand, Colleen Arbaczewski wiped away tears.

“This has been my home for a lot of years, and I can’t be married here legally with my wife,” said Colleen, who was officially married to Tamala in Massachusetts in October.

The Arbaczewskis were among several same-sex couples that applied for marriage licenses at the City-County Building Friday morning, in a Valentine’s Day event planned by Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania, or ME4PA, to raise awareness of the struggle for same-sex marriage.

Employees of the marriage license bureau invited the couples into an office one-by-one and politely told them that they couldn’t give them licenses under state law.

“You expect it, but it kind of smarts every time you’re told you don’t have rights,” said A.J. Anderson, holding her wife, Diane, after a short meeting with an employee.

Before entering the license bureau, the couples and other volunteers held protest signs in the lobby, offering candy and Valentine’s Day greetings to passersby. The couples brandished their marriage certificates, obtained in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

The volunteers were sanguine after a federal judge declared Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional on Thursday. Citing the domino effect, they predicted it was only a matter of time before Pennsylvania legalized same-sex marriage.

“I believe everybody should share the same rights,” said Laura Fox, who came to the event to show her support for her uncle and his partner. “If people are committed to each other and love each other, it shouldn’t matter who they are.”

Most of the passersby walked past the event without taking notice, apparently preoccupied with their looming workdays. Some stopped to show their support by signing a giant Valentine’s Day card to be presented to the state Legislature. A few expressed disapproval. One man politely told a volunteer that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Another muttered an expletive and shook his head while walking away.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Ms. Fox said after one of the encounters. “As long as he doesn’t get crazy or act out, I don’t care.”

The Arbaczewskis said they wouldn’t let the rejection of their marriage license application halt the momentum of their Valentine’s Day. They used vacation days to take the day off work, and they planned to get a nice lunch, see a movie and go dancing at a fundraiser.

Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903.

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